We have accomplished what I would say is one of Cambodia’s more difficult adventures. Well, hiking to the top of Mt. Aoral (1813m) is not too difficult when you eventually get around to the hiking part. Arrangements and access are the real adventure.
The trail head is way off the beaten path, down roads that are difficult to maneuver by any vehicle (I claim horseback would be the best). We nearly destroyed our motorbikes fording rivers and avoiding stumps, holes, and rocks. Also, making arrangements with a guide in a nearby village are nearly impossible without a good command of Khmer language. We thought we had everything sorted out until the last minute when paying our guide 🙂
The actual hike is not that interesting. The trail hasn’t been developed at all so no one has cut away any trees to make any sort of view. We did have fun camping at a stream about half way up except for half freezing to death in our hammocks.
Anyway, like most adventures in Cambodia, the means is often more exciting than the end. This was definitely the case with Aoral.
Okay, that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But I’m sure glad we did it. All things considered, it’s amazing the trip worked out so well. Everything about the experience tested us – but that’s to be expected. Because when you get into the Cambodian boonies the potential for patience-testing-stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere types of things going wrong, increases exponentially.
But besides a few bug bites, bent moto parts and broken brake (which we got replaced), ridiculously dirty clothes, and queasy stomachs from too much filtered mountain water, we’re doing swell. And we certainly earned bragging rights – because summitting Phnom Aoral is no easy feat (and the view from the top sure isn’t a reward).
This is how it goes.
-Start in Phnom Penh and jump on a motorbike and drive for 4 hours until we hit the turn off towards Aoral. Then the adventure starts. Cause the road breaks down to a sandy, pitted, potholed mess and only gets worse from there.
-After 2 more hours arrive at a small village and run into the village chief [with funky hat and teeth grill]. He helped us identifies a guide [who had a ‘muscular’ cat] and we negotiate a price. Follow guide to his house – in another village a few more km down the road and hammock camp out underneath his house overnight.
-Head out the next morning on a track that should not be called a road. Because it was really more of a drainage ditch. Or a giant mud puddle. Or actually a river in some parts. Yes, we have officially driven down a river and forded three more. [It takes 2 hours to go 8 km.]
-Arrive at the base and hike at a 40 degree angle for 3 hours straight. Heart rate through the roof the entire time from tripping on rocks, pulling ourselves and our huge bags through bamboo thickets, up vines and over rocks.
-Arrive at camp, set up hammocks, eat. So, so thankful there is a water source at camp. No time to waste, we hit the trail again for the summit. Two hours later, reach 1813m. The reward? No view, but a little Buddhist shrine and a plaque [and jungle leeches] and the knowledge that we’ve accomplished something few in Cambodia have. And that’s worth it.
-Camp out overnight in our mock US army hammocks (mosquito net included). Enjoy the cold and wearing sweatshirts and socks and a campfire in a tropical country.
-Check out early Sunday morning. Hike down steep terrain. Twist ankles a few times, get permanent stains on our buts from falling so much in the mud, tear clothing, quadriceps are jello.
-Get back to our motorbikes! Miraculously they turn on and we start our journey down the road-from-hell once again. This time I ride on the back of the guide’s bike. I question my sanity. It is a motor-coaster. There is no other description. He jams his bike into first and careens down hills. I lose my hat ducking for a large branch. Then we crash into a mud pit. [Thankfully it was a soft landing]. Get back on the bike and race on towards the finish line.
-Reach the village intact. Celebrate with coconut drinks from a local vendor [and for some reason corn cobs]. Begin the long drive back to Phnom Penh with a pit stop to fix the motorbikes.
-12 hours after leaving camp in the morning, we arrive home.
Even after all of that, I still think it was worth it.